Networking is the most effective means of expanding business and career opportunities, and it’s also one of the least expensive. For those of you who do not work in a corporate office place, the personal nature of networking can enable you to feel less isolated. Do a good enough job cultivating relationships and those contacts can even expand into your personal sphere and enrich your life on an entirely different level.
To capture the potential of networking, you need to incorporate networking tasks into your daily routine. Art Calendar caught up with productivity pro Laura Stack and organization expert Julie Morgenstern to ask their advice on how you can flex your networking muscle.
Tools for productive networking
One tool that all master networkers use is a contact management system. Stack, who is president and CEO of The Productivity Pro and author of Leave the Office Earlier, suggests using software such as Outlook or ACT in lieu of a handwritten address book. “Each time you get a business card, enter the information into your database and toss the card. Then you can schedule calls and simply pull up your list each day to remember who to connect with,” explains Stack.
If you are opposed to an electronic contact management system, that’s alright, as long as whatever you choose is your only system, says Julie Morgenstern, New York Times bestselling author of many organization and time management books including Organizing from the Inside Out and founder of Julie Morgenstern Enterprises, a company that provides individual organizing services, corporate consulting, and professional training. “Sometimes it’s as simple as a one-sheeter with all the key people that you are constantly trying to network with. Include the top 50 or 100 names with phone number, e-mail and maybe the name and number of their assistant,” says Morgenstern. She also says that artists might want to create separate sheets for each contact category, such as galleries or dealers, curators, and collectors. The goal is to “touch” each person every two months or so, connecting with each a total of six times a year. A paper sheet system could be an ideal solution for artists who are very mobile yet not electronically-oriented. Remember, though, whether you opt for electronic software or go the paper route, pick one system for recording your contacts and stick with it.
A calendar is another tool that can help you to make networking a priority and keep you on task. One point that both Morgenstern and Stack stress is that you must determine how much time you will devote to networking. How many face-to-face outreaches — lunches, coffees, gallery openings, group networking events, etc. — do you want in a month? Once you set that goal, your job is to fill in those slots on your calendar.
To manage your networking time, a time map is a must. Morgenstern’s book, Time Management from the Inside Out, teaches readers to create a visual diagram of their daily, weekly and monthly schedules upon having identified the activities that support their big-picture goals (See Time Management System Provides Emerging Artist with Blueprint for Success, Art Calendar, September 2008).
Establishing a dedicated block of time for networking is especially important for handling a social media routine such as spending time on Facebook and Twitter. “This might be a single 15-minute session every morning or maybe a few quick sessions spread throughout the day — whatever makes sense with your needs and situation,” says Stack.
For face-to-face networking events, Morgenstern gives high marks to creating a document that she dubs a “future opportunity rating and follow-up document.” The file summarizes the people you met at an event, describes the opportunity, ranks the strength of the opportunity on a 1-to-10 scale, and lists the follow-up actions needed to capitalize on the opportunity. “It’s so easy to go to events, collect business cards and let them sit in a drawer,” comments Morgenstern. Her system, on the other hand, allows you to rank the viability of the prospect and the document, once created, serves as a checklist that is tough to ignore.
Get savvy with social media
Since you use the Internet, you’ve likely set up an account on one or more social media sites. The question is, are you wasting time tweeting or do you maintain focus? “One of the biggest reason that otherwise productive people end up wasting a ton of time on social networks is that they never sat down and figured out what they were trying to accomplish,” explains Stack. “Meaningful goals might be based on sales (establish one new lead per week), generating awareness (post industry-related content once per day), or even something more subjective such as establishing a reputation as a valuable online resource for customers and prospects. If your goal is simply to create an account and make some noise, that’s probably all you’ll do.”
Connecting, listening and contributing focused messages rather than simply broadcasting a sales pitch are activities that will add value to the energy you invest in social networking. Read what your circle of followers and friends have to say to gain insights and to better focus your own message. In addition, respond to other posts to make new contacts and reinforce existing relationships.
With so many pointless posts about lunch and the weather on sites like Twitter , you need ways to filter the buzz. Stack recommends downloading a third-party application such as TweetDeck or Twhirl. “TweetDeck allows me to focus on the handful of people that I know well and even keep an eye on important topics through search terms,” she says. “That saves me time and keeps me focused.”
“If you’re going to do something more than two times, figure out how to automate it” writes Stack in Leave the Office Earlier. When it comes to online networking, Stack fully embraces automated processes, particularly for people who participate on multiple social media platforms. Ping.fm, SocialOomph.com and blip.tv are among the apps that Stack likes. Ping.fm enables you to streamline your updates; simply post the update on Ping.fm and it will be broadcast on all of your social networking sites. One of the best features of SocialOomph.com is that you can automate maintenance of your Twitter account, including following new followers and sending custom messages. Create a welcome message for your new followers or follow Stack’s lead and pre-write and schedule future postings. Stack wrote 365 daily Productivty Pro® tips over the course of a few days and has scheduled them to go out once a day, thus eliminating the need for daily manual updates. If you want to share video, upload yours to Blip.tv, which will automatically crosspost to YouTube, TubeMogul, iTunes, your blog and other sites.
Time mismanagement, dysfunctional (or nonexistent) organizational systems and an undefined purpose are all factors that prevent many professionals from leveraging the benefits of business relationships. Commit yourself to using organizational and time management tools, adopt time-saving techniques, and above all, know what your networking goals are, and you’ll be following a blueprint that will build business and grow your career.AC
Julie Morgenstern is an organizing and time management expert, business productivity consultant and speaker. She is the New York Times bestselling author of many organization and time management books including the classic Organizing from the Inside Out. Look for the new Julie Morgenstern Balanced Life Wire-bound Daily Planner at www.franklincovey.com.
Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm, specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Her Web site is www.theproductivitypro.com.
Contributing writer and communications consultant Ligaya Figueras specializes in business writing, marketing and media relations for visual and performance artists, writers, nonprofit organizations and specialty service providers. Follow Ligaya on Twitter at twitter.com/LigayaFigueras, or friend her on Facebook at facebook.com/ligaya.figueras.